Bob Jungels (Etixx-QuickStep) will target both the Giro d'Italia and the World Championship time trial in 2016. The Luxembourg dual road race and time trial champion made good on his promise as a stage racer last year when he finished 27th in his first Tour de France.
It can be easy to forget that he is still only 23 but expectation has followed Jungels since his first season in the professional peloton. Jungels is not setting himself a specific target in the overall classification but he feels that the Giro d'Italia is the best place to test himself and improve on what he has already achieved.
"There's no rush for me to look for any GC, that's for sure, but it is easier to do a result there than in the Tour. The Tour is super hard this year, and there is not much time trialling so I think it makes more sense," Jungels told Cyclingnews. "A stage win would be perfect but it's always hard and you never know how it will unfold. What happened in the first week of the Tour last year could happen in the Giro. I'm always a little bit more defensive with these. Going for a stage would be nice."
This year’s Giro d'Italia has some 61 kilometres of time trialling split over three days and contains much less climbing than in recent years. While the Tour de France has a comparative 54 kilometres against the clock, it has double the amount of high mountain stages. The final Grand Tour of the year, the Vuelta a Espana contains just one individual time trial and 10 summit finishes. Last year's Tour de France also contained very little in the way of the discipline and Jungels feels that it demonstrates a worrying trend.
"I think it's really interesting and sometimes it's a pity to see that the time trials get lost somehow in the big races," he said. "This year, there are that many hard races and it's getting harder every year with more climbs. I don't really see where it's going but I think, and not because I'm good at time trialling, that time trialling should always be part of an overall stage race."
His second main focus of the season will be the time trial at the World Championships in Qatar, which will take place in October. An appearance at the World Championships would be only his second at senior level, after making his debut in 2013. He knows that the route is unlikely to suit him but he wants to test himself whatever the parcours.
"I want to prepare for the time trial at the worlds this year and see how far I can go even though I am expecting a very flat course. I would prefer a harder course but it isn't going to happen," he laughed.
Jungels will be riding for Etixx-QuickStep in 2016 after joining them from Trek Factory Racing over the winter. He had looked into remaining with Trek for this coming season but the negotiations broke down when they were only able to offer him a one-year contract. He decided to look elsewhere and, with his results from the past three years, there was plenty of interest in him and he decided to plump for the Belgian squad.
"I think it is a big step forward for myself. Of course, everything has changed for me from the bikes to everything else," said Jungels. "It's going really smooth. We had the first meeting in Brussels in October and everybody is so easy from the character and you feel everybody has integrated into the team and they make it really easy for you.
"[The team] gives you a lot of confidence and that is important for a young rider to have. I think maybe I was missing that in the past years. I'm a little bit that type of guy who needs a bit of confidence from time to time but that's how I feel at the moment so I'm happy with that."
With the Giro in his calendar, Jungels is taking a different approach to the start of his year. He will begin his season at the Volta a la Comunidad Valenciana at the beginning of February before heading out to the Tour of Oman. Following that he will return to Europe, although - as of last week - he is yet to decide whether he will return to Paris-Nice or ride Tirreno-Adriatico. The Ardennes Classics are also up in the air due to their proximity to the Giro d'Italia.
The five-day race around Valencia will be Jungels' first racing appearance since last August. The Luxembourg rider had hoped to ride for his country at the World Championships in Richmond but saw his season ended in a seemingly innocuous way. While washing the dishes at home a few days after San Sebastian, he tried to catch a falling glass and severed a tendon in his hand and he was forced to spend over two months off the bike.
He shows Cyclingnews the large scar on his left hand but he says that it will not be a problem going into the new season. "I've been quite lucky. It happened in Switzerland near my place and the doctors did a good job. I was lucky, in the bad luck," he explained.
"Of course, I was a little worried about it. It was on August 23 so it wasn't until October when I could really ride my bike except for a little bit on the rollers but you don't do that every day. Actually, I did a lot of running to keep the fitness and then I went on holiday and re-started back there with running and fitness. When I finally got back on the bike and I didn't really miss anything. In December, I felt like I was missing some basic work but now I'm good."